The Australian government is planning for international travel to remain low into the latter part of 2021, according to documents released as part of the federal budget.
The annual address also contained no major new packages of help for the aviation industry, though the government has pledged to allocate $230 million to Tourism Australia to encourage domestic travel and poured $250 million into a ‘Regional Tourism Recovery Package’.
This year’s budget was billed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as the most important since World War II but painted a gloomy forecast for the return of international travel and revealed a gigantic $213.7 billion deficit.
Crucially, budget papers stated, “A gradual return of international students and permanent migrants is assumed through the latter part of 2021 (with small, phased pilot programs beginning to return international students from late 2020).
“Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through the latter part of 2021, after which a gradual recovery in international tourism is also assumed to occur.”
The budget also tentatively predicts WA will drop its border restrictions in April, shortly after the state election.
Currently, only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, with international students, temporary visa holders and tourists banned altogether. Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for which they have to pay up to $3,000.
The forecast chime with comments by acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge last month, in which claimed Australia may only open its borders to the world when a vaccine becomes “globally available”.
However, it will likely anger those in the industry, such as Melbourne Airport CEO Lyell Strambi, who has argued the country must “plan to live sustainably with the virus”.
“We cannot be sure when or if a vaccine will be available,” said Strambi last month. “We can’t even be sure how many among our community will access it once it arrives. It’s hardly a foundation for economic recovery.”
The budget analysis means funding has now shifted towards promoting domestic travel in the next 12 months.
Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Simon Birmingham said, “As we shift to the next phase of our tourism recovery plan, new budget measures will further support the sector and jobs by stimulating domestic visitation to our tourism regions and encouraging domestic business travel.”
This includes more than $250 million for a new Regional Tourism Recovery Package, which will include $100 million for infrastructure projects designed to boost regional tourism and $50 million earmarked for hot spots usually reliant on international travellers, such as tropical north Queensland and Tasmania.
Tourism Australia has also been allocated $231.6 million for 2020-21 to focus on domestic travel – despite recently releasing a major campaign to woo international tourists.